Category Archives: Young Adult Books

Cloaked in Red by Vivian Vande Velde Book Review

Cloaked in Red

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

Cloaked in Red by Vivian Vande Velde

Author: Vivian Vande Velde
Publisher: Marshall Cavendish (October 2010)
ISBN: 9780761457930
Page Count: 127 pages
Format: hardcover

Target Age Group: children ages 9 and up
My Rating: image_thumb83_thumb1_thumb

Synopsis:

We all know the story of “Little Red Riding Hood.”  A little girl in a red cloak goes through the dark forest to deliver a basket of food to her sick grandmother. Along the way, she meets a wolf, who rushes ahead to her grandmother’s cottage to ambush and eat the little girl when she arrives.  The woodcutter arrives just in time to rescue Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother and kill the wolf and they all live happily ever after, right?  Well, Vivian Vande Velde has reimagined this timeless classic into eight different versions.  Be prepared to read the story of “Little Red Riding Hood” in ways that you never expected!

Review:

I always enjoy reading books by Vivian Vande Velde and Cloaked in Red was no exception.  If you read this book, make sure that you take Little Red Riding Hoodthe time to read the author’s forward as it is hilarious!  I never really thought about it before, but Vivian Vande Velde asks a few pertinent questions about this children’s tale.  Why on earth did Little Red Riding Hood’s mother send her off into the woods by herself when she knew it wasn’t safe?  Why warn the little girl about not talking to strangers, but neglect to advise her to stay away from wolves and other dangerous animals?  Why didn’t the grandmother’s call out a warning if she was hiding in the wardrobe when Little Red Riding Hood arrived?  And why on earth is the little girl named after an article of clothing?  The author’s questions had me laughing and thinking about this classic story in a totally different way so I was ready to read some new and interesting versions of the tale.

There are eight different versions of “Little Red Riding Hood” in this slim volume and they are all pretty short.  I am not saying that they are all bedtime story material, as most of these stories deal with some Little Red Riding Hood #2grown-up subject matter, but I found the book a quick and easy read.  As with all short story collections, I enjoyed some of the tales more than others, but I was impressed with Vivian Vande Velde’s creativity in all of them.  The stories all feature the main characters of the fairy tale: Little Red Riding Hood, Little Red’s mother, the wolf, the grandmother and the woodcutter.  The author uses a bit of artistic license in some of the stories so you have to hunt a bit more to identify the characters, but they are always there.  For example, the wolf is a handsome, dangerous young man in one tale.  In another, an elderly man, graciously called the woodcutter (even though you are not allowed to chop wood and are more accurately referred to as a wood collector) collects wood as he travels through many fairy tales, including “The Gingerbread Man,” “Hansel and Gretel,” and “The Three Little Pigs.”  All of the stories are told from a variety of perspectives and each character gets a chance to be the protagonist in the stories, including a memorable one by the red cloak itself!  Expect the unexpected and you will not be disappointed.  Well-written and interesting, Cloaked in Red will be sure to appeal to readers who enjoy reading mixed-up fairy tales.

Content:

This book contains scenes with mild sensuality and peril.  A wolf eats people and/or threatens to eat people in many versions.  Fantasy violence, magic and talking animals are featured.  Recommended for ages 12 and up.

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The Cloud Chamber by Joyce Maynard Book Review

The Cloud Chamber

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

The Cloud Chamber by Joyce Maynard

Author: Joyce Maynard
Publisher: Simon Pulse (October 2006)
ISBN: 1416926992, EAN: 9781416926993
Page Count: 288 pages
Format: hardcover

Target Age Group: teens
My Rating: image_thumb84_thumb1

Synopsis:

When Nate Chance arrives home from school, he is surprised to see police cars and an ambulance in his front yard.  His father is being taken away in the ambulance, blood streaming down his face, and no one will tell Nate what is really going on.  Nate soon discovers that his father tried to commit suicide, but ended up surviving a gunshot to the head.  Devastated, Nate lashes out at his mother, too hurt to realize how his mother is feeling.  When his best friend abandons him, telling Nate that his parents don’t want him to hang out with him any more, Nate feels like he has hit rock bottom.  With no friends and the science fair coming up, Nate is forced to pair up with Naomi, the only person at school who is as unpopular as he is.  At first, Nate is bitter, but then he lets his dreams of winning the science fair with a spectacular project take over – he will build a cloud chamber with Naomi, win the science fair and find a way to visit his father in the big city!

Review:

The Cloud Chamber was an emotionally moving novel.  It was difficult to read, but thought-provoking and a good reminder to all of us how lucky we are.  Joyce Maynard carefully lays the stage before Nate’s father’s attempted suicide.  Nate’s dad has always been a bit of a dreamer and far too smart for most in their small town.  When he was a young man, he fell in love with Nate’s mom and tried hard to give up his dreams and to become a farmer, only to meet with failure after failure.  A freak hailstorm would flatten their farm’s crops, but no one else’s.  Alfalfa would mold in the trailer before it reached the customer.  Every attempt to turn their luck around failed and now their family is facing bankruptcy and being evicted from their farm.  Then comes the failed suicide attempt.  Now the police are investigating Nate’s mother to make sure that she didn’t try to shoot and kill her husband, Nate is treated like mental illness and depression is catching and Junie, Nate’s younger sister, doesn’t understand why no one comes to her birthday party.  It seemed like Nate over-reacted to some situations and under-reacted to others, but I have no idea how I would react to the situation that Nate was in.  I was truly hoping for a happy ending for Nate, but it was not to be.  I won’t tell you how the book ends, but it is a great deal more realistic than what I was hoping for as I really liked Nate and wanted him to see his dreams come true.

Joyce Maynard’s tone was very matter-of-fact.  There is no self-pity in this book, just Nate accepting that his life has changed.  He finds a way to appreciate and make friends with Naomi, the daughter of the crazy-religious preacher and his wife, and to find other dreams to work toward.  I do not know that I would have the strength and resilience to go through what Nate went through and not completely collapse so I Cloud Chamberwas really impressed.  Nate clings to science and the science fair as a way to change his life.  He builds a cloud chamber, which shows energy trails and was super scientific and kind of hard to understand.  It seemed like a very advanced, impossible project for a young student in a small town, but Nate felt like it connected him to his father.  Nate also focused on winning the science fair because he knew that the winner would be sent to the district science fair, which was close to where his father was being treated.  Nate was determined to find a way to get Junie and himself to visit their dad, no matter what it took.  In the end, visiting their father was both easier and more difficult than Nate anticipated and the ending came as a bit of a surprise.  It reminded me that, no matter how much we try to protect children, they are much more aware of what is going on than we think.  By refusing to let Nate and Junie see their father, their mother ended up doing more harm than good.  It is easy to see from an outside perspective, but their poor mother was going through so much on her own that she simply did not have the strength or the will to take her children to see their father.

Ultimately, I found that this book reminded me that sometimes love really isn’t enough.  Life would have been so different for Nate’s father if he grew up in a city and had access to additional education.  He seemed to have a real knack for science and was actually very intelligent, just not a great farmer.  When he married a farmer’s daughter, and his new father-in-law bought him a plot of land, everyone else thought how lucky Nate’s father was, but it must have felt like a prison sentence.  Losing the property may have been the best thing for their entire family, but was still devastating.  The Cloud Chamber is a thoughtful book about suicide and its aftermath, but it is also a novel of survival.  All of the characters in the book dealt with the suicide attempt in their own way and, while some were more successful than others, it reminded me that humans are remarkably resilient and that we can all survive far more than we think.  Be ready to get teary-eyed throughout the book as Nate’s circumstances will really tug at your heartstrings!

Content:

This book deals with a suicide attempt and its impact on a family in a small town.  Bankruptcy, poverty, mental illness, police investigations into attempted murder, prejudice and bullying all take place in the book.  There are some scenes of drinking and Nate’s mother struggles with alcoholism.  Nate’s parents have verbal arguments and a difficult relationship.  Kids are mean to Nate and Junie at school.  Most of the town ostracized Nate’s family as if they believe that depression is catching.  Recommended for ages 12 and up.

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Stolen Away by Alyxandra Harvey Book Review

Stolen Away

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

Stolen Away by Alyxandra Harvey

Author: Alyxandra Harvey
Publisher: Walker Publishing Company (January 2012)
ISBN: 9780802721891
Page Count: 278 pages
Format: hardcover

Target Age Group: teens
My Rating:image_thumb83_thumb1

 

Synopsis:

Eloise Hart doesn’t know what to think when a gorgeous guy dressed like a Ren-Faire reject approaches her in the park.  He claims that his name is Lucas and that he is there to protect her now that Eloise has been found.  Eloise blows him off, but wishes she didn’t when she is kidnapped by a flock of crows and transported to the world of Faery.  She is taken to the realm of Lord Strahan, King of Faery.  Strahan is determined to hold Eloise hostage until Eloise’s aunt, Antonia, returns to court and relinquishes her power so that he can rule indefinitely.  Antonia trades her life for Eloise’s, but Eloise and her friends are determined to get her back.

Review:

Stolen Away is a really fast read.  It appears to be long, but the type font is quite large so I was able to blast through the book in a couple of hours.  The storyline is interesting and it was fun to explore Alyxandra Harvey’s version of the Faery Faery RealmRealm, but there wasn’t a lot of depth in the characters.  Eloise is a shy, rather plain girl who has to try to find the courage to speak publicly and rally people to help her rescue her aunt.  Jo, Eloise’s best friend, is a bubbly, girly girl who is focused on cute boys and her dreams, but at least she was interesting!  Every chapter trades off between Eloise and Jo.  Chapter 1 is from Eloise’s perspective, Chapter 2 from Jo’s, Chapter 3 from Eloise, etc.  This kept the story fresh and interesting, particularly since Eloise is a good girl and Jo is a bit of a naughty girl.  Eloise is experiencing the land of the Faery while Jo is researching it from the outside and they made a pretty good team, I must say.  Unfortunately, the trading off only Seelie & Unseelieemphasized the brevity of the book.  I felt like the author switched off viewpoints to extend the book rather than to enhance the story itself.  Devin is the third musketeer and he is a huge fan of fantasy books, but he doesn’t feature very much into the story.  Lucas is a handsome Faery from the hawk clan and can shapeshift into a hawk.  He is like a knight and has classic features, is never without his sword and is straightforward and honorable.  Eldric is a dangerously handsome Faery from the swan clan and is Lord Strahan’s only son.  He seems to be in love with Jo and he kind of helps Eloise out while she is imprisoned, but you can’t really trust him.   I was a lot more interested in Jo and Eldric’s relationship than Eloise and Lucas’s, but it was great to not have to tangle with love triangles for once!

I really enjoyed the setting of this book.  A lot of the action takes place aboveground in the human world, but the most interesting parts take place in Faery Realm Abovegroundthe Faery rath, an underground kingdom ruled by Lord Strahan.  Lord Strahan captures Seelie faeries and uses them to torture and display for his amusement.  Though Strahan is a Seelie or light faery, he has made alliances with the Unseelie or dark faery court so he has quite a bit of darkness inside him, as well.  Strahan’s court is an interesting mixture of the beautiful and the frightening and all of them are deadly.  Their only weakness Isadoraseems to be iron, which they use to torture and maim faeries that they capture.  Eloise is a bit of an idiot and makes the mistake of believing a faery she shouldn’t have and gets stuck there because she ate and drank the faery food.  Alyxandra Harvey takes classic faery tale themes here and gives some of them a little tweak, but she stuck with the classics, which I particularly enjoyed.  One of my favorite characters was the faery Isadora, who is about 12” tall.  She used to be the Queen of Faery, but the belief of a poet (and the power of her real name) changed her from a human-size faery into a little pixie-like thing with wings who dresses in flowers and leaves.  But Isadora hasn’t lost a bit of her spunk!  She was a feisty little thing and I enjoyed learning about these miniature faeries more than the full-size ones!

If you are familiar with faery lore, you will definitely enjoy Stolen Away.  If you Don't Piss Off the Fairiesare unfamiliar with traditional faery legends, such as having power over a faery if you know their true name, Seelie versus Unseelie courts, time moving differently in the faery realm, getting stuck in the faery realm if you eat or drink anything, the power of ivy and symbols to keep you safe and invisible from faery eyes, etc., then you are in for a real treat!  This book will introduce you to everything you need to know about faeries to survive.  It is well written, if a bit shallow, and I will definitely be on the lookout for more by Alyxandra Harvey in the future.

Content:

This book contains scenes of torture, violence and death.  Victims are attacked by faeries and suffer hallucinogenic effects.  Faeries and magical creatures are prominently featured and not all of them look human or are good faeries.  There is kissing between the two couples who are falling in love, but nothing more than that.  Recommended for ages 12 and up.

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Beautiful Redemption (Beautiful Creatures #4) by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl Book Review

Beautiful Redemption

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

Beautiful Redemption by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

Series: Beautiful Creatures#4
Author: Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (October 2012)
ISBN: 9780316123532
Page Count: 451 pages
Format: hardcover

Target Age Group: teens
My Rating:image_thumb84_thumb1

Related Reviews: Beautiful Creatures #1 – Beautiful Creatures; Beautiful Creatures #2 – Beautiful Darkness; Beautiful Creatures #2.5 – Dream Dark; Beautiful Creatures #3 – Beautiful Chaos

Synopsis:

Ethan Wate spent most of his life waiting to escape Gatlin, South Carolina, but, now that he finally has, he would give anything to go back.  Ethan is dead.  He sacrificed himself to start a New Order and to repair the damage caused by Lena when she chose to be both Light and Dark.  Ethan is delighted to meet his mother and Aunt Prue in the Otherworld, but longs for those he left behind.  Ethan’s death has been kept a secret from those in town and Lena hopes that Ethan will return to her somehow, like her Uncle Macon.  Ethan finds a way to return to Gatlin and visit Lena and Amma, but can only communicate with them through crossword puzzles.  When he discovers that he might have a chance at life again, Ethan jumps at the chance.  He must make a perilous journey to the Far Keep, where the Keepers guard The Caster Chronicles.  If he can remove his page from the Chronicles, his death will be undone.  It is Ethan’s only chance at coming back to life, but no one has ever succeeded…

Review:

I enjoyed Beautiful Redemption, but I was sad to see the Beautiful Creatures series come to an end, especially this way.  Instead of ending with a bang, Ethan and Lena’s story ended with a whimper.  I had been waiting for a big climactic battle to change everything and it never happened!  Instead, the mighty Abraham Ravenwood dies in an unexpected way by a foe who should The Other Worldnever have been able to take him down.  Another villain takes his place as the one for Ethan to beat – Angelus, one of the most powerful Mortals in the world.  He is a Keeper and should not be involved in any events going on around him, but Angelus has been interfering with the world for a long time.  Angelus hates Mortals, even though he is one, and wants to be a Caster more than anything.  He performs horrible experiments on Dark Casters and has been able to develop some frightening powers of his own.  Those who cross him find themselves facing terrible fates, like Xavier, who only vaguely resembles a man and is stuck guarding the Gates of the Far Keep.  Ethan spends quite a bit of time with Xavier, a collector sorts, while he waits for Lena to acquire The Book of Moons in the real world.  I loved reading about his collection and found his story to be a tragic one.  I was hoping that Ethan would be able to help him, but Ethan still doesn’t have any powers beyond his Wayward abilities so he can’t really do anything but find the path and follow it.  There were a lot of people Ethan encountered who could have used someone to forgive them or offer them hope of a better life, but the Otherworld isn’t really about second chances.

The other characters in the Otherworld, a kind of limbo between the living and the dead, were just as fascinating.  When Ethan first crosses over, he wakes up in his own bedroom and thinks that everything was a dream, until he recognizes his mother’s footsteps in the kitchen.  Turns out the Otherworld is located in one of House in the CemeteryGatlin’s cemeteries and everyone’s home is transported there with them as a kind of duplicate residence.  The front doors of the houses of tombstones and
it was a bit of a downer to realize that you can be stuck with people who you didn’t like in life for an eternity in death!  Only those with unfinished business can be found in the Otherworld so it is definitely right place for Ethan and his mother!   The authors really thought about the abilities that a Sheer or a ghost would have and presented several very interesting chapters about Ethan learning to travel, manipulate objects and communicate with the living.  Amma’s voodoo powers are definitely keeping ghosts out, but Ethan found a creative way to enter the house and let her know that he wasn’t really gone.  Lena and Amma are the only ones clinging to hope that Ethan will return like Macon did, but it is going to be difficult.  I was pretty sure that Ethan would find a way and I had my hopes up that Ethan would return with some amazing powers like Macon did, but no dice.  Ethan did not develop any additional powers or abilities while he was in the Otherworld, which was a real shame!  I appreciate the fact that the authors are writing a story about a normal guy caught up in incredible events, but it was hard to see Ethan caught up in the Caster world where everyone else had amazing powers and he didn’t have any defenses against them at all!

Beautiful Redemption is unique in the Beautiful Creatures series in that the book is not narrated by Ethan in its entirety as all three other books were.  Ethan tells the first third and the last third of the book, but Lena tells the middle third of the story, which takes place in the land of the living.  It was nice to get to learn a bit Book of Moonsmore about Lena and to see her perspective on life with Ethan for once.  I liked her even more after reading Beautiful Redemption and felt like she was becoming a real person rather than just Ethan’s love interest.  It was also great to see Ridley and Link continue their volatile relationship as seen through a woman’s eyes as opposed to a man’s.  Link is coming into his own and knows what he wants.  He wants Ridley, but he is not willing to compromise and deal with a Dark Caster who has allied herself with some of the most evil Casters in the world.  John Breed, who bit Link and gave him his powers, is on hand to help guide Link and learn more about himself and what he can do.  John Breed is pretty amazing in many ways, as he can absorb anyone’s powers and use them youre_a_big_boy_im_a_bad_girl_button-p145790072915258406t5sj_400without stealing them from others.  We never do learn who his parents are and I am very hopeful that we will get to read his story someday!  The authors have written a short ebook about Link called Dream Dark that takes place between Beautiful Darkness and Beautiful Chaos.  The events that take place in this book are referred to throughout Beautiful Redemption.  While you don’t have to read the novella to understand what is going on, you will probably want to find a copy and read it just so you know exactly what they are referring to.  Fingers crossed that there will be more novellas about other characters in the Caster world!

Ethan’s sections deal with traveling, just like the second book, Beautiful Darkness, and, while it was fun to go to new locations and to meet a lot of new people, I was really hoping for something bigger and grander to close out the series.  I was devastated to learn the true fate of Ethan’s great-great-uncle and Ferrymannamesake, Ethan Wate, who was killed during the Civil War.  I guess I was always hoping that Genevieve and Ethan would find each other after death, but I don’t think it ever happened.  There are some creepy waters full of dead bodies in the Otherworld and it was so sad to think about people being trapped in misery for eternity.  We also catch a brief glimpse of Sarafine, Lena’s mother, whom she killed in Beautiful Chaos, which was unexpected and fabulous!  The Otherworld was fascinating and unique, but I missed Gatlin!  I was absolutely in love with Gatlin, South Carolina and all of the people who lived there and was devastated to read the last pages in this final book – especially when the last page says “Here endeth the Caster Chronicles,” which pretty much eliminates all hope of there being additional books set in this amazing world!  There is so much about the Caster world that still needs to be explored!  The authors just barely introduced us to the mysterious Far Keep, where the Keepers record and do their top-secret business.  Can’t we read another series set in the Caster world from a Caster or Keeper perspective?!  Come on, I would read more!  Give me more!

Content:

This book contains scenes of violence and death.  Bodies are described, sometimes in too much detail, and there are some disturbing scenes.  Humans who have been cursed show up in various humanoid forms and there are a lot of sad stories that have no potential for a happy ending.  Casters use their magical abilities to kill, fight and entrap others.  Voodoo, ghosts, and what happens after death are discussed and feature prominently in the plotline.  Mourning, grief and how to deal with the loss of a loved one is discussed.  Recommended for ages 16 and up.

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Beautiful Chaos (Beautiful Creatures #3) by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl Book Review

Beautiful Chaos

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

Beautiful Chaos by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

Series: Beautiful Creatures #3
Author: Kami Garcia& Margaret Stohl
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (October 2011)
ISBN: 9780316123525
Page Count: 518 pages
Format: hardcover

Target Age Group: teens
My Rating:image_thumb85_thumb1

Related Reviews: Beautiful Creatures #1 – Beautiful Creatures; Beautiful Creatures #2 – Beautiful Darkness;  Beautiful Creatures #2.5 – Dream Dark; Beautiful Creatures #4 – Beautiful Redemption

Synopsis:

Welcome to the End of Days in Gatlin, South Carolina.  Lena was not Claimed by the Light or the Dark on her seventeenth moon and she has literally undone the Order of Things.  The weather is brutally hot, lubber grasshoppers have devoured everything green and Caster abilities are going haywire.  Abraham Ravenwood unleashes a fiery tornado on the town, destroying the home of Ethan’s Great-Aunts and the public library.  Amma isn’t acting like herself and seems to be into some seriously dark voodoo.  Link, Ethan’s best friend, is settling into his new incubus powers and is loving all of the attention.  Ridley, now powerless, still manages to cause a great deal of trouble as a Mortal.  Ethan’s father seems to be dating his English teacher, who just happens to be possessed by the Demon Queen.  And Ethan is hearing a new song about the eighteenth moon, but he seems to be forgetting everything else, including his own phone number!  Now they have to find the One Who is Two and convince them to sacrifice themselves or the whole world will be destroyed.

Review:

Beautiful Chaos places the reader right back in the action of the Beautiful Creatures series.  It has only been a short time since Lena was kidnapped by John Breed and Ridley, who delivered her to Abraham Ravenwood and Lena’s mother, Sarafine, to offer her up as a Dark sacrifice.  Now summer is over and it is the first day of their junior year in high school.  Ethan is thrilled to be back together with Lena, but kept from her by his Mortal body.  Whenever Ethan South Carolina Water Towerspends too much time kissing or touching Lena, his heart starts racing and he begins to lose consciousness.  Turns out that there are some good reasons to keep Mortal and Caster lovers apart after all!  Ethan is also struggling with a phantom menace who seems to follow him wherever he goes.  He never sees anyone, but he is having dreams of dying.  Ethan also has lost some memories and is forgetting what people look like, phone numbers and other information he has known his whole life.  Lena seems settled back into her relationship with Ethan and is happiesh.  She is a little concerned about putting the Order back together, but doesn’t seem to be as focused in researching and changing things as she was in Beautiful Creatures.  Amma, on the other hand, seems super focused on changing the future of the cards.  She visits a bokor, one who practices dark Caster Tunnelvoodoo, and seems to have offered herself up as a sacrifice for someone else, but Ethan doesn’t know who and Amma certainly isn’t talking!  Macon spends all of his time in the Caster Tunnels, learning about his new powers and trying to figure out what he can and cannot do.  He loves eating, but he hates taking time to sleep.  Macon is still developing new powers after his imprisonment in the arclight and it is clear that he still has many more powers to discover.  About halfway through the book, we learn that Macon can literally bring sunlight to wherever he is, a powerful ability when Dark Casters, particularly Incubuses, are so vulnerable to the light.  Ridley is determined to make everyone as miserable as possible since she lost her powers at the end of Beautiful Darkness.  She hates high school and doesn’t want John Breed and Lenato live like a Mortal.  Link, on the other hand, is thrilled because he now thinks he has a real chance at a relationship with Ridley.  These two create so many sparks off of each other that it is no wonder that trouble follows them wherever they go!  Now that Link is an Incubus, he is stronger, buffer, and more handsome.  All of the Mortal girls find him irresistible, but the only girl he wants is Ridley.  But it seems like all Ridley wants is her power back.  I had my suspicions about her and, when it appeared that she had found another way to Cast even though she didn’t have powers, I knew she was up to no good.  I don’t think that Link and Ridley’s relationship will ever smooth out, but it sure is fun to read about!

Beautiful Chaos is very atmospheric and seemed to provide a natural progression after the second book, Beautiful Darkness.  Gatlin, South Carolina is still heavily featured and it is clear that, even though Ethan wants to leave town, Storm Moves Inhe loves the town he grew up in and Lena makes him happy no matter where he is.  The town is struggling and the religious cling to their Bibles and are on the lookout for other Apocalyptic events.  Mrs. Lincoln, Link’s mother, in particular is convinced that it is the end of the world.  She is still just as funny as she was in the other books, but she plays a smaller role now that she is no longer possessed by Sarafine.  What I loved, though, was that the town really rallied together when times started to go bad.  After the library burned down, Marian was devastated and convinced that the good ladies in town would be happy to see it gone since they spent so much time banning books and all.  It was an unexpected delight to see the town put so much time and effort into repairing the building and salvaging as many books as Lunae Libri Caster Librarypossible.  The Caster Library, fortunately, was not damaged in any way so they are still able to look up information there.  I can’t remember how Ethan learns about the Demon Queen, but she was an unexpected character that really added to this book.  The Wheel of Fortune crushes us all, but that is something that Abraham Ravenwood clearly doesn’t understand.  Abraham expects the Dark Queen to be evil, but she may surprise you as you read.  I love these kind of surprises and the authors were super creative with the storyline.  I was pretty sure I knew the identity of the One Who is Two and, of course, I was right (it is pretty obvious), but there were so many other unexpected events and occurrences that I literally could not put this book down!

Beautiful Chaos is beautifully written and lushly gothic in style.  The authors have a knack for describing a small town full of mysterious charm and unexpected residents.  The location feels real and the characters are full of Lenadepth and surprises.  Ethan is such a sweety, I would love to know him in real life, but he definitely feels more like a brother than boyfriend material.  Lena has turned into a good girl who is full of Light and Dark just like all of us are.  Ridley and Link always keep me guessing, but it was Liv who I was jealous of in this book.  Liv is no longer a Keeper in training now that she has interfered with the events happening in front of her (Keepers only record and observe, Ridleynever interact) so she is kind of rudderless.  She is a Mortal who knows too much about the Caster world to be able to live a normal life.  When Liv gets a chance to spend some time with John Breed, it was only a matter of time until they fall in love with each other.  Lucky girl!  There is a lot to enjoy in this book, even though it is pretty dark and you are unsure of what is going to happen.  I will warn you, however, that this book ends with the cliffhanger of all cliffhangers so make sure that you have the fourth book, Beautiful Redemption, available when you finish this book because you will definitely be stunned at the ending of Beautiful Chaos!

Content:

This book features violence, torture and the death of many characters.  Some are killed with magical powers and others are killed by natural forces.  The bodies are not described in gory detail so it wasn’t too bad.  Many of the teen characters are featured in a sensual, sexual manner, but they do not go beyond heavy petting or making out.  Teenage drinking is present at a high school party.  Demons are brought up from Hell to Gatlin and terrify the locals.  Characters are possessed by other powerful spirits.  Ghosts and voodoo rituals are described and explained.  Residents in a long-term care facility are described as they live in a coma-like state or wait to die when they are taken off of life support.  Natural disasters such as tornadoes cut a swath of destruction through the town.  There is some strong language.  Recommended for ages 16 and up.

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Dream Dark (Beautiful Creatures #2.5) by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl Book Review

Dream Dark

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

Dream Dark by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

Series: Beautiful Creatures #2.5
Author: Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl
Publisher: Little, Brown & Young (August 2011)
ISBN: B0054LDAZ2
Page Count: 40 – 50 pages (depending on type font)
Format: ebooks

Target Age Group: teens
My Rating:image_thumb84_thumb1

Related Reviews: Beautiful Creatures #1 – Beautiful Creatures; Beautiful Creatures #2 – Beautiful Darkness; Beautiful Creatures #3 – Beautiful Chaos; Beautiful Creatures #4 – Beautiful Redemption

Synopsis:

At the climactic battle sequence at the end of Beautiful Darkness, Ethan and his friends were able to rescue Lena and bring her safely home.  Unbeknownst to them, Link, Ethan’s best friend, was bitten by John, an incubus with mysterious powers.  Now Link is transforming and becoming part of the Caster world.

Review:

This is a great little short story that takes place between Beautiful Darkness(Beautiful Creatures #2) and Beautiful Chaos (Beautiful Creatures #3).  I have BEAUTIFUL CREATURESalways enjoyed Link as a character so it was fun to learn more about him and to get his perspective on things.  Link is a little freaked out when he learns he is transforming into an incubus, but then he realizes he is going to have superpowers like all of his favorite comic book heroes and he is all in.  Link is also pretty excited to be taller and stronger than Ethan for the first time.  It will be interesting to see how Link’s new powers change Link and Ethan’s relationship in the upcoming books.  Link has always been the happy-go-lucky guy in town and is a good friend, but not very bright.  He doesn’t understand half of what has happened and he certainly doesn’t understand most of the things that Macon is trying to teach him, but he is trying!

The story is here is really short and not really worth $1.99 (more like $0.50 or Link's Drumsticks$0.99), but I enjoyed it.  Link goes on an errand for Macon at the end of the book that gives us a nice little teaser into the next book.  I counted Dream Dark as 45 pages on my Kindle and my main complaint is I wish it was longer!  It was so fun to see Link trying to deal with his new abilities and to hide them from his mother, who is a force to be reckoned with.  Link has to go to the doctor, give up pie, and try to persuade Ridley, who has lost her powers, that they still have a future together.

Dream Dark is just as well written as the rest of the books in the series and, if you Linkare fan, you will certainly not want to miss out on this mini-adventure.  It was wonderful to learn a little bit more about Link.  There is no exclusive information in this novella that you could not extrapolate or pick up at the end of Beautiful Darkness or the beginning of Beautiful Chaos, but I enjoyed it a great deal, nonetheless.

Content:

This book contains some scenes of teenage sensuality and sexuality, but nothing goes beyond heavy petting and making out.  There is a zombie-like monster in the tunnels that is a bit creepy.  A blood demon kills someone in the book and Link talks to him while he is dying.  Nothing is described in terms that are too gory or explicit.  Recommended for ages 13 and up.

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Beautiful Darkness (Beautiful Creatures #2) by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl Book Review

Beautiful Darkness

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

Beautiful Darkness by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

Series: Beautiful Creatures #2
Author: Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company (October 2010)
ISBN: 9780316077057
Page Count: 503 pages
Format: hardcover

Target Age Group: teens
My Rating: image_thumb84_thumb1

Related Reviews: Beautiful Creatures #1 – Beautiful Creatures; Beautiful Creatures #2.5 – Dream Dark; Beautiful Creatures #3 – Beautiful Chaos; Beautiful Creatures #4 – Beautiful Redemption

Synopsis:

Lena’s sixteenth birthday has passed and neither the Light nor the Dark have claimed her.  Now Lena has one green eye (Light) and one golden eye (Dark), but seems to be developing some Dark tendencies.  Ethan doesn’t remember what happened on Lena’s birthday, but he knows that Macon Ravenwood is dead and that Lena is acting strange.  Lena is spending all of her time with her Dark cousin, Ridley, and a mysterious new boy, John, with strong powers.  Ethan is not sure if they are influencing Lena, but he can feel her slipping away from him.  His worst fears are realized when Lena runs away with Ridley and John to the mythical Magical Barrier.  When Ethan learns that Lena’s mother has raised the seventeenth moon, which will force Lena to make a choice between the Light and the Dark, he knows that he has to track her down in the Caster Tunnels before it is too late.

Review:

I was not looking forward to reading Beautiful Darkness because it is the second book in the series.  The second book always tears apart the hero and heroine and Saraphinethis one is no exception.  Ethan wakes up the morning after Lena’s sixteenth birthday in his own bedroom with only hazy memories of what happened.  There were only a handful of people present in the cemetery when Lena confronted her mother, Sarafine, at the end of the first book (Beautiful Creatures) and none of them, not even Amma, who loves Ethan like a mother, bother to fill Ethan in.  Lena is slowly pulling away from Ethan.  She claims that there is no future between the two of them.  Lena is a Caster and, if she becomes more intimate with Ethan, she will kill him.  As a Natural, Lena is one of the most powerful and rare types of Casters.  Both Light and Dark want to claim her powers for their side and Lena knows, once she chooses sides, some of her family will die.  Ethan is aware that Lena is struggling to make an extremely difficult and permanent choice, but he doesn’t understand why Lena is not choosing to share the burden Secretwith him, as she did in Beautiful Creatures.  The critical piece of information that Ethan is missing is that, by bringing Ethan back to life, Lena killed Macon when she cast a spell in The Book of Moons.  Lena cannot bear to look at Ethan because he always reminds her of what she has lost and the price she paid for his life.  These themes made this book much better than I anticipated.  There were some very good reasons why Ethan and Lena could not be together.  Of course, that does not prevent Ethan from trying to find a way for them to be together, but Lena seems to accept it as a matter of course and starts making plans to live the rest of her life without Ethan.

Paralleling Ethan and Lena’s story are the dreams that Ethan has about Macon’s life.  Macon was a Demon, an Incubus.  He survived by feeding on the dreams of Half Yellow Half Green Caster Eyehumans while the rest of his family feasted on Mortal blood.  When Macon began to Transform and turn into a demon, he was forced to tell Jane, the love of his life, a Mortal, that they could never be together again.  I really grew to care for Macon in this book and to see him as an actual person rather than simply a protector or impediment to Ethan and Lena’s relationship.  We also learn a great deal about Ethan’s mother.  Amma and a few of her fellow priestesses allow Ethan to communicate with his mother for a brief period of time.  It is very clear that Ethan’s mother was no ordinary Mortal woman and that she is guiding and protecting Ethan even after her death.  Link, Ethan’s best Lena Struggles with Her Dark Sidefriend, is a real hoot and I was so thrilled to see him travel with Ethan through the tunnels.  Link may not be the brightest bulb, but he is a loyal friend and willing to put up with any kind of weirdness he encounters, especially if it means he gets to spend more time with Ridley, Lena’s cousin.  My favorite characters were Ethan’s Aunts, however.  He has three great-great-aunts who are really something!  They are constantly surprising Ethan with their knowledge of the worlds around them – both Caster and Mortal.  Prying information out of them can be a bit trying, but it is always worthwhile.  Amma and the Aunts manage to pop up at the most opportune moments to keep Ethan from making some grave mistakes and I wish that I had some guardian angels like these women!

Beautiful Darkness showed me what a sweet boy Ethan really is.  I don’t know very many seventeen-year-olds who would be as well-adjusted and kind as Caster Tunnel SceneEthan while going through what he is experiencing.  He spends every Saturday morning with his great-great-aunts, eats whatever Amma makes for him, is supportive of a father who is a constant embarrassment, and is willing to sacrifice all he is to make Lena happy.  I knew there was something more to Ethan than meets the eye, however, and I was delighted to learn that I was correct!  Ethan is a Wayward, the one who marks the path.  Or, as Link sums it up, Ethan is a human compass or like the Caster equivalent of Aquaman (a superhero with the power to talk to fish – yeah, he is not in any movies yet).  Only those with great purpose in the Caster world would need a Wayward to Caster Tunnel Scene #2help them find their way.  Waywards are rare and never come along by mistake.  So Ethan has powers, but they are not as cool as what I was hoping for.  When those around you can control the weather, suck the life out of you or talk you into doing anything they want, finding pathways doesn’t sound too cool, but Ethan needs his powers to get through the Caster tunnels and find Lena.  Ethan also has a rare Arclight, a magical prison that can contain a Demon and prevent them from ever escaping.  He will need all of his wits and powers to help him navigate the Caster tunnels, which run underneath the Mortal world.  Magical doorways lead to unexpected locations, monsters can pop out anywhere, and comparisons to the yellow brick road from The Wizard of Oz were not that far off the mark.  I really enjoyed exploring this segment of the Caster world and the tunnels were a clever way to travel long distances in a relatively short time, as well as to include lots of different locations in one book.

I loved learning more about the Caster world in Beautiful Darkness, but I also loved learning more about Gatlin, South Carolina.  Ethan is so caught up in John Breedhelping Lena that it would be easy to focus all of the book on the Caster world and Lena’s family, but the authors very carefully balance it out with Mortal events.  Ethan meets a new girl at the library named Liv, who is a British exchange student.  She is beautiful and Ethan is tempted, but he cannot cheat on Lena that way, even though Lena is not currently his girlfriend.  We also meet John Breed, a Caster boy who seems to be stealing Lena away.  Ethan barely scrapes by with passing grades after surviving his sophomore year of high school and is now on summer vacation, which he is Gatlin's Cemeterysupposed to spend by working in the library with Marian, the town Keeper.  Summer brings the Fair to town and Amma, Ethan’s housekeeper and honorary grandmother, is determined to defend her first-prize ribbon for best fruit or fried pie at the fair (she usually wins second place for cream pies).  The whole town also shows up to celebrate All Souls Day at the cemetery, where competitions are held to see who can decorate the graveyard in the gaudiest fashion with plastic flowers, fruit and animals.  I would go crazy living in such a Leaving Gatlin Signsmall town where everyone literally knows everyone else’s business (the mailman opens everyone’s letters), but it was so fun to read about!  The authors have a lovely writing style and I find myself completely immersed in the world of Beautiful Creatures whenever I pick up a book.  It is rare to find myself so captivated by a series, but this one is beautifully written, has terrific descriptions and will tug on your emotions.  While reading, the Caster world seems real and it seems like Gatlin is a place I could really visit.  I love being transported while I am reading a series and Beautiful Creatures has definitely done that for me!

Content:

This book contains supernatural creatures with various powers including sucking the blood out of humans, living off of human dreams, using Siren powers to get humans to do anything they are told to do, reading multiple pasts and futures, determining the truth by looking at someone’s face, and using natural powers (fire, water, trees, etc.) against others.  There are scenes of mild peril.  Demons, in corporeal and incorporeal form, are present in most of the book.  These include incubuses, succubuses, and floating dark shadows that will kill you as soon as you encounter them.  Ghosts, necromancers, voodoo priestesses, and Caster animals are also involved in the action.  There are several scenes featuring teen sensuality and sexuality, but nothing goes beyond flirtation and heavy petting.  Some characters die, but nothing is described in explicit terms and there are no gory details included.  There is some mild language and teenage partying including drinking alcohol.  Recommended for ages 15 and up.

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Beautiful Creatures (Beautiful Creatures #1) by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl Book Review

Beautiful Creatures

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

Series: Beautiful Creatures #1
Author: Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl
Publisher: Little, Brown & Co (December 2009)
ISBN: 9780316042673
Page Count: 563 pages
Format: hardcover

Target Age Group: teens
My Rating:image_thumb85_thumb1

Related Reviews: Beautiful Creatures Movie #1 – Beautiful Creatures; Beautiful Creatures #2 – Beautiful Darkness; Beautiful Creatures #2.5 – Dream Dark; Beautiful Creatures #3 – Beautiful Chaos; Beautiful Creatures #4 – Beautiful Redemption

Synopsis:

Ethan Lawson Wate has lived in the small town of Gatlin, South Carolina for sixteen long years.  His mother recently died in a car accident and his father hasn’t come out of his study since.  Amma, their housekeeper, watches over Ethan like her own grandson and Link, his best friend, supports him no matter what.  Ethan is counting down the days until he can escape his boring hometown when Lena Duchannes comes to town.  Lena is unlike anyone Ethan has ever met.  She doesn’t dress or act like any of the other girls Ethan knows.  But Lena is more different than Ethan can imagine.  Lena is a Caster and can work powerful magic.  Ethan has been dreaming of Lena and now that she is really there, he cannot let her go.  But relationships don’t work between Casters and Humans and Lena’s family doesn’t see any future for the two of them – especially once Lena celebrates her sixteenth birthday and is claimed by the Light or the Dark…

Review:

Beautiful Creatures was a refreshing change from most paranormal teen books.   We usually read the book from the girl’s point-of-view and it is typically the Ethanboy who has the power and protects her.  In this book, we read the story from Ethan’s point-of-view.  This one small change gave the book a completely different feel from all of the other teen paranormals out there.  It was a refreshingly original perspective and I was delighted to enter this creative and vibrant world.  The town of Gatlin, South Carolina is unique.  It was founded by the Ravenwood family and the town grew up around it after Lena Duchannesthe soil proved to be incredibly fertile.  Casters founded the town and keep many of their secrets there.  Of course, a few Humans in town also know about the Caster world, but most residents have no idea what is going on under their very noses.  Instead, they ostracize anyone who is different and spread gossip about the reclusive Ravenwood family.  I was constantly delighted with little tidbits of information about the Caster world and will not ruin the surprises here by telling you more.

Ethan has been dreaming of Lena for weeks before she arrives in town and instantly feels a connection when they meet for the first time.  Everyone else in town turns against Lena from the moment they meet her, but Ethan is willing Linkto go against everyone he knows and side with this strange girl that he barely knows.  It was fascinating to see these two finally connect and click together.  There is definitely some deeper kind of connection between these two.  I could tell that Ethan was not what he appeared and there was some special kind of future in store for these two.  Ethan and Lena have visions into the past that reveal the source of the Ravenwood curse. Ridley These take place during the Civil War period and show the story of another Duchannes and Wate who were in love.  Like Ethan and Lena, he was a Human and she was a Caster.  For love, she cast a terrible spell and ended up cursing the rest of her family.  Every other Caster gets to choose their destiny on their sixteenth birthday – the Light or the Dark.  But for the Duchennes family, there is no choice.  Once you turn sixteen, The Book of Moons chooses for you.  The only way to lift the curse is to find the right spell in the same book that cast the curse, but it has been missing for 100 years…

This book is beautifully written and so fascinating that I didn’t want it to end.  The books in this series are lengthy and this one clocks in at a hefty 550+ pages, Gates of Ravenwoodbut it didn’t feel like a long book to me.  There are wonderful details in regards to the Civil War or the War of Northern Aggression, what it is like to grow up in small-town America, and plenty of Southern charm.  Add in the voodoo from Amma and the Caster world from the Duchennes and Ravenwoods and you are in for a real treat.  There is plenty of history subtly Macon Ravenwoodwoven throughout the story, which lent the fantastical aspect a sense of gravitas that is missing in a lot of other paranormals.  Also, I loved that the authors labeled each chapter with a date instead of a number so that I knew exactly what was happening when.  There is something new and unexpected in every chapter and I had no idea where the story was going or where it would end.  Atmospheric, historic and written with an almost lyrical quality, the Beautiful Creatures series is definitely one you will not want to miss!

Content:

This book contains scenes of thrilling suspense.  Some characters die, mostly in the past during the Civil War.  Teen sexuality is a predominant theme in this book with comments on clothing, make-out sessions, etc., but there is nothing beyond a few kisses that take place between the two main characters.  Some of the characters portrayed in the book are allied with the Dark and are a bit intense.  One character in particular is a Siren and uses her sexuality to force boys to do whatever she wants.  There are some scenes that contain descriptions of voodoo practices and rituals.  There is some mild swearing.  Cross dressing, teenage alcohol consumption, and prejudice are all contained in the book.  Recommended for ages 14 and up.

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Girl at Sea by Maureen Johnson Book Review

Girl at Sea

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

Girl at Sea by Maureen Johnson

Author: Maureen Johnson
Publisher: HarperTeen (May 2008)
ISBN: 0060541466, EAN: 9780060541460
Page Count: 336 pages
Format: paperback

Target Age Group: teens ages 13 and up
My Rating:image_thumb84_thumb1

 

Synopsis:

Clio has the perfect summer planned out: working at the local art-supply shop with her crush, Ollie.  She is determined to get her first kiss and loveable, artistic Ollie is her selection.  But all of Clio’s plans come crashing down when her mother ships her off to spend the summer with her dad in Italy.  Not only will Ollie be playing the field while Clio is gone, but she will be stuck on a yacht in the middle of the ocean with her father, her father’s new girlfriend, the girlfriend’s daughter (17-years-old, just like Clio), the girlfriend’s research assistant and her father’s old friend, Martin.  And none of them will tell Clio what is really going on, forcing Clio to uncover the truth for herself!

Review:

Clio is a great character.  She is seventeen-years-old, quirky, sarcastic and very much an individual.  Clio is named after the Muse of History and a sea butterfly. 762184 Her mother is an art restorer and her father is an adventurer.  Their family was almost rich after they created a best-selling board and video game they created on vacation during Clio’s eleventh birthday, only to lose it all when her father’s new business partner ran off with all of their money.  After her parents divorced, Clio doesn’t spend much time with her dad and is really grossed out that he is dating someone new.  Clio loves to draw and never goes anywhere without her sketch pad.  She had an exploratory education and knows quite a bit of about rather esoteric subjects.  What I liked the most about Clio, though, is that she is a teenager, but not a snotty teenager.  Her father drags her out onto a yacht right after Clio lands in Italy, where she learns her father is dating a professor for the first time. Clio Muse of History She is stuck sharing a bedroom with a total stranger, Elsa, who is gorgeous and the daughter of her father’s new girlfriend, told that she is charge of all of the cooking and cleaning for the ship, is not allowed to access the internet or make phone calls and then they wonder why Clio rebels and tries to find out the information for herself?  Come on, I would rebel and I am an adult!  Clio was definitely put in a tough situation and she made the best of it for the most part.  If someone requested that I make a dish for dinner that takes 2 hours to prepare and then clean up after everyone, I would be telling them where to shove it – especially when Elsa doesn’t have any duties on the ship at all!  It was a refreshing change to see a teenager who was not overreacting to her circumstances and was actually in the right for a change, while her parents were totally in the wrong.

It takes Clio quite a bit of time to figure out what is going on in Italy, but, once she did, it proved to be a very interesting story.  The first half of the book felt a bit slow, what with introducing the characters, traveling, etc., taking up quite a Seaside Italian Villagebit of time.  It was obvious from the get-go that Clio’s dad was looking for something.  His new girlfriend speaks three versions of Greek, is a university professor, and has her research assistant along, who is also obviously looking for something.  But what are they looking for?  And how do the historical letters included sporadically throughout the book tie into it?  At first, I thought that they were looking for buried treasure.  Then I realized they were looking for a lost ship.  A lost ship with buried treasure?  Wrong.  It is almost better than treasure!  I know, I know, my geeky historical side kicking in.  Turns out they are looking for *** spoiler alert *** a  translation stone called the Marguerite Stone (it reminded me of the Rosetta Stone, which enabled us to read Egyptian hieroglyphs for the first time), which would help them translate mysterious writings etched on stones found around Luxury Yachtthe world *** spoiler end ***.  It was so cool to think that something like this could still be found out there!  Once this plot line was introduced into the story, everything became a lot more interesting!  Other than that, a love triangle takes up the majority of the story.  There is one boy on board, Aidan, and two girls, Clio and Elsa.  Elsa is a cheese goddess, a gorgeous Swedish girl who is genuinely nice and recently broke up with her slimy boyfriend.  Aidan is a snotty, sarcastic, rather unlikable guy at first.  Then I realized that we were seeing Aidan through Clio’s eyes and she is pretty mean to boys that she likes – not that Aidan didn’t deserve all of the unkind comments she made about him!

Sunken ShipI wish that we could have seen a bit more of Italy in this book, but it was quite enjoyable regardless.  It was very interesting to learn a bit more about what a high-quality yacht looks like and to dream about how I would spend my time on such a gorgeous ship if I was lucky enough to go on an Italian vacation on a luxury yacht.  I also enjoyed learning about Clio’s art.  Clio was very fun to get to know and I enjoyed the hours I spent looking at the world through her eyes while I was reading Girl at Sea.  This book is full of adventure, danger, treasure, romance – it has a little something for everyone!  It is well-written, the characters are strong and multifaceted and the treasure was great fun to read about.

Content:

This book contains scenes with pirates, underage drinking, jellyfish poisoning, and potential heart attacks.  There are discussions of teenage sex, heavy petting, and first kisses.  Recommended for ages 15 and up.

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Beauty Queens by Libba Bray Book Review

Beauty Queens

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Author: Libba Bray
Publisher: Scholastic (June 2012)
ISBN: 0439895987, EAN: 9780439895989
Page Count: 400 pages
Format: paperback

Target Age Group: teens ages 12 and up
My Rating:image_thumb83_thumb1

 

Synopsis:

Fifty Miss Teen Dream Pageant contestants are flying to a tropical island for a fun pre-pageant trip to the beach when their plane crashes on a deserted island.  Only a few of the contestants survive.  Miss Texas takes control, over Miss New Hampshire’s protests, and insists that they keep practicing for the pageant while they wait for someone to come and rescue them.  But as time passes, the teen beauty queens have to spend more time on their survival than on their pageant routines.  So how do you survive man-eating snakes, hallucinogenic fruit and mysterious black-t-shirt wearing soldiers who live on the other side of the island?

Review:

This book was absolutely nothing like I expected.  I thought it was going to be a funny, light-hearted story about a group of girls surviving on a deserted island, but this book is definitely not that!  The book is amped up to the max so every Deserted Islandcharacter and event is exaggerated to the brink of believability.  It is also full of a great deal of sarcasm.  The author is out to make some strong statements about politics, greedy corporations and vapid beauty, which she is very successful at.  Child labor, illegal arms deals, imports that claim to be “Made in the USA,” beauty pageants, diet pills, the price of beauty, reality TV, presidential candidates, and many other serious topics are addressed and incorporated into the very convoluted and constantly surprising plot line.  The book is also peppered with comments, ads and TV episodes that advertise the Corporation’s huge product line.  If you read through the descriptions carefully, Really Hot Piratesyou will recognize a lot of products, shows, bands and more that are popular or were recently popular.  This was quite fun to try to figure out, actually, and gave the book a more lighthearted feel.  Still, there is a lot going on and my head was spinning as I was reading this book and, while much of it was very funny and true, there was just not enough heart in the characters for me to truly enjoy reading this book.

Fourteen beauty pageant contestants survive the crash and I had a difficult time identifying with them.  Almost all of them have an opportunity to tell the story Miss Teen World 2009from their own point of view and the villains also have a few opportunities to tell the story so that we can see what evil plots they are brewing up.  Before each girl tells part of the story, the author gives the reader a “Miss Teen Dream Fun Facts Page!” to learn a little bit about them.  Miss New Hampshire, Adina Greenberg, wants to become an investigative journalist, hates men now that her mother is on her fifth marriage, and is in the pageant to expose all of its dirty secrets.  Miss Rhode Island, Petra West, was born a boy, but is trying to save enough money to get her sex change done.  Miss Michigan, Jennifer Huberman, was actually third runner-up, but the other two were injured and had to drop out of the competition.  She has a record, loves to tinker with mechanical things and is a lesbian.  Miss California, Shanti Singh, has made her Indian heritage an integral part of her pageant-winning strategy, only it is all a lie.  Miss Illinois, Sosi Simmons, is a beautiful dancer and a sweet girl, but all anyone remembers about her is that she is deaf.  Miss Nebraska, Mary Lou Novak, goes a little wild at night when she isn’t wearing her special ring.  She is a shoo-in for Miss Congeniality and keeps her new boyfriend on the island a secret from the other girls.  Miss Colorado, Nicole Ade, is the only black girl in the pageant.  She wants OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         to be a doctor and her mother is always trying to push her to straighten her hair and lighten her skin.  Miss Texas, Taylor Hawkins, is serious about the pageant.  This is her last year to compete and she is going to do whatever it takes to win!  Miss Mississippi, Tiara Swan, is a bubble-brained blond who isn’t very smart, but she is beautiful.  Miss Alabama, Brittani Slocum, is the other bubble-brained blonde who can be distinguished from Miss Mississippi by her third nipple.  Miss New Mexico, Miss Ohio, Miss Arkansas, and Miss Montana also survived.  All of the girls are interesting, but they are pretty one-dimensional.  Libba Bray uses each girl to push a certain topic and agenda.  This was okay, but it just didn’t make me feel anything for the characters – other than wanting them to beat the evil Corporation!

The book got its 3.5 star rating for the strength of the author’s writing.  Libba Bray is very creative and off-the-wall in Beauty Queens, but you never feel like you are lost or don’t understand what is going on.  There are a lot of characters (even more than I described in the paragraph above as there are a lot of people Beauty Pageant Girlswho seem to be on this “deserted” island!), but it was easy to tell them apart and to remember what they stood for.  There is a great deal of humor in this book, as well.  I found myself smiling over the antics of the girls as they struggled to survive, but I also love that Libba Bray not only had them surviving, but thriving as they used the random skills they had picked up on their way to winning pageants to put together a very comfortable little village of huts with a steady food supply to wait for their rescue to come.  Ultimately, even though the girls started off as shallow beauty pageant teens, they all became a great deal stronger after their island experience.  The story ends with a catwalk and a brief paragraph about what each girl went on to achieve later on in life and, without exception, they achieved great things.  Even though these characters were relatively flat, I was happy to see that they were all strong and so much more than beautiful!

Content:

This book deals with death, teenage sex, teenage pregnancy, diet pills, eating disorders, torture, man-eating snakes, transgenders, gay and lesbian teens, child labor, political corruption, illegal arms deals, underage drinking and other mature topics.  Recommended for ages 16 and up.

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